'BEHIND' THE SCENES: Colonoscopies might seem scary, but they're actually not bad

November 01, 2022
Surgeon performing a colonoscopy of a patient, who is sedated on gurney
Dr. Brenda Hoffman performs a colonoscopy on writer Bryce Donovan, just before drawing a Sharpie mustache on him. Photo by Amy Schmoll


mugshot of bald guy with the words "trust me, I know a doctor" 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of regular columns by MUSC writer Bryce Donovan. "Trust Me, I Know a Doctor" takes us inside Bryce's mind (and in this case, other parts of the body) as he experiences the interesting aspects of life at MUSC, all told through his own lighthearted lens.



I have a colon. You have a colon. We all have colons. Heck, even this sentence has a colon: Don’t panic but they’re everywhere.

And up until recently, I only occasionally thought about my colon. I was taking more of a semicolon approach, if you will.

YOU: I won't.

ME: I promise that's my last grammar joke.

YOU: Swear on it.

ME: OK, I swear the past, present and future walked into a bar ...

YOU: So help me ...

ME: It was tense!

YOU: I hate you.

ME: *sigh* That's two of us.

Anyway, at age 47, during my annual physical, I was told by my primary care physician that I was officially entering “middle age” – that magical time in our lives where the body and mind are in perfect harmony, such that we have the proper worldly perspective to understand just how sad it is that we can be hospitalized by simply sneezing too hard – and that it was time to start regularly checking under the hood (or is it trunk?). At first, I had the same reaction most people have when being told they need a camera up their …

“But Bryce,” you’re probably saying, “you work for a hospital. You aren’t supposed to say stuff like that. You’re supposed to advocate for doing the right thing, even if they’re talking about your …”

Ask me if I care. Look, I’m just being totally honest. Yes, I know preventive care is what saves lives and reduces everybody’s medical costs. But I’m not going to lie, the idea of a colonoscopy freaked me out a little bit. And guess what? I’m not alone. 

According to a recent study conducted in Europe, nearly 30% of people surveyed said they would be apprehensive about getting a colonoscopy, even if it was recommended by their doctor. So yeah, I’m in good company on the “baby bus” here. But then I talked to a few friends who previously had the procedure, and they all said it was no big deal. Plus, they reminded me that it was an opportunity to show my kids how a responsible adult handles adversity. Unlike the last time.

*car thumps*

ME: Oh, my God!

MY SON: Did we just hit a car?

ME: Um, no, I’m afraid it was actually a little old … OK, she’s moving again. Quick, let’s get out of here!

It took a few days, but finally, I had mentally prepared myself for having a scope stuck up, er, inside me. What I didn’t anticipate – or fully have a grasp of – however, was the tailgate party that preceded the procedure.

A close up view of the bottle of Miralax showing it's 14 doses, all of which Bryce had to take 
With 14:1 odds against, my colon never stood a chance against MiraLAX. Photo by Bryce Donovan

In order for the doctor to get a good, clean look at the inside of your colon, and to determine its health, it needs to be empty. Now, this is no small task. Generally speaking, the inside of your colon is more crowded than the beach on the Fourth of July. Gross? Maybe. Disgusting to think about? For sure. Not something you ever wanted to know? One hundred percent. Wait, what was my point? Oh, in order to “uncrowd” the old crap factory, I needed to consume an industrial-sized dump truck full of powdered laxative. OK, so maybe it’s just 64-ounces (14 normal doses) worth. But I am not lying when I say this amount is enough to take down an adult water buffalo. And you have to drink it all in 24 hours. But BOY, OH, BOY are you lightheaded clean as a whistle afterward. (Pro tip: remember to put your phone charger in the bathroom.) 

The morning of the big procedure – as fate would have it, I was doing this on my actual birthday – I hitched a ride to the hospital because you aren’t allowed to drive yourself afterward (for good reason – you will be all sorts of hopped up on what they use to put you to sleep during the “big game.”) After getting checked in, I made my way to my room of sorts, where I got into my gown. Now please learn from my embarrassment here when I tell you: The only thing worse than getting naked in front of strangers is getting naked in front of strangers when you’re not supposed to. 

Once that awkwardness was cleared up, in came my doc, Brenda Hoffman, M.D., a small, unassuming woman who takes things very seriously, as evidenced by our first-ever interaction.

ME: I’m Bryce.

HOFFMAN: Nice to meet you, Bryce. I’m Dr. Hoffman.

ME: This is my first colonoscopy, so I’m a little nervous.

HOFFMAN: Don’t be. It’s mine too.

Then she asked why I was laughing.

Just kidding. She was totally laughing, too, because she’s done like a zillion of these things over the course of her career, and she knows a thing or two about putting a patient at ease. When I told her it was my birthday, she laughed again and said, “You really know how to pick fun ways to celebrate.” She also said she had a surprise in store for me – not exactly what you want to hear from your surgeon right before she puts you under. But much to my delight, the surprise was the entire operating room singing “Happy Birthday” in unison as I slipped into warm, cozy anesthesia world. 

view inside the operating room of surgeon performing colonoscopy 
Dr. Hoffman carefully avoids getting ensnarled in Bryce's leg hair as she performs the procedure. Photo by Amy Schmoll

Then, what felt like only 15 seconds later, I was being gently roused from LaLa Land by a nurse asking how I was doing. I responded by asking if she was my wife. (Her response – a very quick, “Nope!”) After a few more nonsensical comments on my part, the brain finally started to play catch up, and I remembered where I was and why I was there. The only thing missing was my surgeon.

A still image of a man on the operating room table, getting a colonoscopy 
To see a family-friendly video of Bryce's experience, click here.

But moments later, she entered the room with a smile telling me everything looked great up there. To which I responded, “thank you.” Ha! Yeah, right. I totally started giggling like a 10-year-old.

Unfazed, she patiently walked me through the details of my procedure, explaining  what she saw (two small spots that required closer looks and subsequently turned out to be nothing) as well as what she didn’t (my car keys). She also reminded me what a great thing I had done, getting preventively screened. And with that came some more good news: I didn’t need to have another one for 10 years. 

In a weird sort of way, that made it a birthday I’d never forget. After all, what better present can you get than a clean bill of health? And that filled me with pride. Which, ironically, was about the only thing filling me at that point. 

Later that day, as I finished shoveling in my second cheeseburger, I took a moment to reflect on the mature decision I had made and its accompanying good news. And that’s when it hit me. 

Good thing the phone charger was still in there.  


Got an idea for Bryce's next column? Send him an email at donovanb@musc.edu.